From the team perspective, different people can contribute to leadership in different ways

Thursday, September 3, 2020
Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior Michael Kukenberger

Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior Michael Kukenberger's current research works to understand how training and development can encourage growth of shared leadership skills in organizations.

What is a leader? Traditionally the title is ascribed to a formal, charismatic, often white man who leads an organization to greatness–but this definition never sat well with assistant professor of organizational behavior Michael Kukenberger.  

“Leadership is a process, not a person,” Kukenberger says. “From the team perspective, different people can contribute to leadership in different ways. If we allow each other to grant and claim leadership in different scenarios, then we’re using our pooled skillsets  more efficiently. And–particularly in a very dynamic environment–if you share leadership there can be a lot of benefits.” 

Kukenberger’s work supports the notion that shared leadership pays dividends. In a well-cited 2016 meta-analysis, he and his co-authors uncovered evidence that the more teams share leadership, the better they perform. In a more recent 2019 study, Kukenberger worked to understand the different ways diverse individuals may contribute to leadership. He found that when team members have functionally distinct positions, they tend to share more leadership. Notably, this is particularly true when they have a highly cooperative environment and realize the benefits of different viewpoints. 

However, Kukenberger notes that regardless of team composition “teams may not naturally lean towards sharing leadership,” so his current research works to understand how training and development can encourage its growth. The results provide empirical evidence that shared leadership can be facilitated with a specific shared leadership training intervention as opposed to general leadership training or team development–specifically, interventions that articulate the benefits of shared leadership across the three processes that are common to how teamwork gets done: the transition processes, action processes, and interpersonal processes. When teams are guided on these three processes and encouraged to share leadership across team needs, they seem to reap performance benefits. 

Kukenberger’s work has also increasingly considered individual and social identity as it relates to shared leadership emergence. He notes that our collective leadership lens often still has a ‘think leader — think male’ bias that “significantly decreases the pool of available leadership talent, reducing the sharing of leadership,” which is not only inequitable but detrimental to team performance. His research suggests that cooperative team conditions and thoughtful staffing can mitigate the negative effect of male leadership prototype biases. 

While the viability of traditional vs. shared leadership structures likely depends on team context and composition, Kukenberger says, “Leadership theories that move us away from top-down, bureaucratic, and formal to more social, emergent, informal, and shared will help organizations be more competitive in our fast-moving, knowledge-oriented economy.” 


Kukenberger, M. R., & D’Innocenzo, L. (2020). The building blocks of shared leadership: The interactive effects of diversity types, team climate, and time. Personnel Psychology, 73.  

Maltarich, M. A., Kukenberger, M. R., Reilly, G., & Mathieu, J. (2018). Conflict in Teams: Modeling Early and Late Conflict States and the Interactive Effects of Conflict Processes. Group & Organization Management, 43.  

D’Innocenzo, L., Mathieu, J. E., & Kukenberger, M. R. (2016). A Meta-Analysis of Different Forms of Shared Leadership–Team Performance Relations. Journal of Management, 42. 

Kukenberger, M. R., Mathieu, J. E., & Ruddy, T. (2015). A Cross-Level Test of Empowerment and Process Influences on Members’ Informal Learning and Team Commitment. Journal of Management, 41. 

Mathieu, J. E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kukenberger, M. R., Donsbach, J. S., & Alliger, G. M. (2015). Team Role Experience and Orientation. Group & Organization Management, 40. 

Micaela Bedell | Paul College